It was three years ago this week that I went for my annual mammo. I’d been a little lax in my appointments so it was the first time in three years I’d gone. But I was young. I had NO history of cancer in my family. I felt fine. No lumps, no bumps, no nothin’.
My first clue that something was off was when the tech left the room for a while and came back, saying that they just needed a few more “angles.” My second red flag was when she left a second time, returning with the radiologist herself. She said she saw something unusual and wanted to do a biopsy. Right there. Right then.
“But I’m here alone!” I objected, though I’m not really sure what difference that made. They assured me that I was NOT alone. They were right. I burst into tears as two nurses held my hand during the procedure.
Afterwards, the radiologist had me meet her in her office. She informed me that she’d have the pathology report the next day. I asked if they’d call with the results, still thinking there was some possibility of a different diagnosis. She told me to come in. And to bring my husband with me. And maybe someone else who could be an extra pair of ears for us.
That wasn’t a clue or a red flag, so much as a frying pan upside my head.
Over the next seven days, at the ripe old age of 43, it was confirmed that I had Stage II breast cancer. I met with an oncologist who told me there was an 80% chance I’d undergo chemotherapy. I met with a surgeon who gave me the choice of lumpectomy, lateral or bilateral mastectomy with or without reconstruction. And did I want fries with that?
There were vials and vials of blood to be drawn. An iron transfusion- probably because of all the vials of blood that had been drawn. And did I mention I’m a fainter?
Exactly one week after I walked into that appointment, I had the first surgery of my life. It went great. Clean margins. No lymph node involvement. It was more contained than they’d first thought, so down it went from Stage II to Stage I. Months of chemo were replaced by weeks of radiation.
Now, there were so many different things swirling around me at this time of my life. My mother had just died a few months before. I was plunged headlong into a deep depression. My marriage was in trouble.
AND THEN EVERYTHING STOPPED.
Cancer demands everything you have. All else becomes secondary- grief, fear, anger. Everything else just falls away. I was so scared- so sure that I was going to die. Gradually, I came to believe what the doctors told me- that it was going to be a hard year, but it was just a bump in the road. They were right.
It was some time later that I felt compelled to write a letter to my cancer…
Thank you for shaking me out of the depths of my despair.
Thank you for uniting my husband and I in our love for one another and our hatred of you.
Thank you for making me take a long, hard look at the things that really matter most in my life.
Thank you for reminding me how loved I am.
Thank you for reminding me how many I love.
And, most of all, thank you for leaving.
It is three years this week that I walk through my life, a cancer survivor.
So much has happened since then. So many more things- better things- define me.
And not one of them is Cancer.